I have been appointed to fill in for a teacher who used to teach classes IX and X. With the current batch gone for their board exams, and the syllabus finished in the other class, I have nothing much to do at school. So I end up with a lot of substitution classes filling in for teachers who are absent or on leave. On one such substi, I found myself with a set of bubbly, chubby, cheruby set of nine and ten year olds. This was class V-C. It was my very first day with them, and I knew I would not be taking their class henceforth, it was a one day event, so we had name games and quiz and as is usual with me I had done lots of drawings on the board. Every time they came up with their adjectives or answers, I would immediately do an illustration on the board. They appeared to be excited and amused to see their ideas become pictures on the board and there had been lots of laughter and good cheer. They were surprised but very happy to see miss doing that.
In convents, substis are not fun periods, one gets a regular teaching class and the children get their regular dose of class work and home work too. It happened that in this next class (today actually) I was asked to do Mode of Narration. We were studying reported speech. There obviously was a lot of conversation and a good deal of ‘noise’. At one point, with their enthusiasm bursting out of hand, the babies started to get out of their places and by ones and twos began to gather around me. Now this is unexpected and also not done in such set ups where there is a large number of children in the class (this particular one had sixty). The children at the back, restricted by the furniture are held back and so they try to keep the teacher’s attention by shouting. In short the whole room looks chaotic from the outside.
So on this occasion, being a new teacher here, I decided to get everybody seated first. That way, I announced everybody would be able to see everybody else and we could have everyone participating in turn. The cherubs, when they could hear me, started trickling back, away from the teacher’s bay, but it still looked crowded and I felt I still didn’t have enough space to move, so I closed my eyes and raised my hand in a gesture of counting silently (I had witnessed the gesture produce great results in one of my erstwhile colleague’s classes). The idea was to communicate that by the count of all the fingers in my hands the class should settle down in their places so we could proceed with the lesson (‘better be fingers of only ONE hand’ being the subversive threat).
Now everybody was in place. I was ready to resume from where we had to stop. But I could not. A thin little hand shot up in the air. Interruption. I didn’t want it at the time. So I ignored it firmly and tried to carry on, “so then, what changes do you see in this sentence here”, but this child had got up. She was scrambling out of her place and hurrying in front, and another one behind her and another one from my right. ‘No’ I indicated silently. I mouthed ‘please’ and waved both my hands – go back! There was a pause, then instead of clearing away two more started very determinedly, very eager urgent expressions on their little faces “Miss…”.Like it was a matter of life and death…But am in no mood to humour that now. I am new. I don’t even have my own slots yet. I can’t make up if I mess up the time-table. O-o no! Not now! Have to finish this, I would not get a second class and I can’t keep something incomplete and go away. Today is the 5th. Deadline for completing syllabus is the 8th. What is she doing? No, please bachha (kid), get back, let me finish this first…bachha nods but completes her little journey anyway and fumblingly spreads this piece of paper out on the teacher’s desk, briefly looks up at me, hesitates for a few seconds. Doesn’t get the friendly response. Quickly runs back to her seat.
Seemed like some drawing. Now what has that got to do with mode of speech? Silly girl. O, ok, would look at it later. I give her a smile then not to acknowledge but mainly to get her attention in place (selfish, limited, teacher’s reason) and firmly placed a duster upon it without really looking, determined not to be sidetracked from mode of speech again. Nobody says a word after this and the lesson is duly completed. Am happy when the bell rings. “O great! You have been great bachhas, thank you for being good” and am preparing to leave. Little figures all hands and feet rush at me, eyes like little chunks of diamonds, shining brightly, “It’s Blessing – do you like it?” What blessing? The picture? I open it casually to look. And this is what I find there :
the lovely dream of a set of lovely people, so naive…this is so absolutely humbling.
It made me want to cry.
Blessing is a child, a thin little girl with a pale shy face and a quite little voice. Here is her wish for her dear teacher who didn’t even know her name and nearly tried to ignore her out of her skin in her stupid attempt to ‘finish’ a ‘lesson’! Whose lesson? What lesson? And can one really ‘finish’ lessons anyway? A lesson the teacher learns then…